Forces of so-called Islamic State launched an attack in Iraq on a town in western Anbar province in an apparent attempt to divert attention from the government’s offensive on Mosul.The mayor of Rutba described the Islamic State (IS) assault on his town from three directions as “fierce”.Several policemen died as security forces sought to regain control.Meanwhile, Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched fresh attacks to the north-east of Mosul which is occupied by IS.As the pressure builds on IS in and around Mosul, the group has been counter-attacking with suicide bombers and launching assaults in other areas.Rutba mayor, Imad al-Dulaimi, said insurgents had gained access to the city through IS sleeper cells.
It had been under IS control since 2014, but was taken back into government hands four months ago. On Friday, IS attacked the city of Kirkuk, 170km (105 miles) south-east of Mosul. At least 46 people were killed and many more injured.Kirkuk, a major oil-producing centre, was under curfew and there were reports of continuing sporadic clashes on Sunday. IS’s Amaq news agency posted a video on Sunday purporting to show people celebrating in Mosul after the attack on Kirkuk.Although the assault on Rutba had little effect on the Mosul offensive, it is another reminder of the threat IS still poses in Iraq, says the BBC’s Middle East analyst Sebastian Usher.On Sunday morning, Kurdish forces say they carried out new attacks on IS positions near the town of Bashiqa.Reuters TV footage showed smoke rising from the town as Kurdish fighters launched attacks against IS with mortars and machine guns.US Secretary of State Ash Carter, in talks with the Iraqi Kurdish region President, Masoud Barzani, praised the Peshmerga as “exceptionally capable and essential”.”I’m here to commend you and your forces. I’m encouraged by what I see. We appreciate your friendship,” Mr Carter said.Turkey has insisted that its forces cannot remain idle during the fight to drive so-called Islamic State militants from the Iraqi city of Mosul, but Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi has told the US that there is no need for Turkish forces yet.The UN says that 5,000 people have been displaced so far by the recent fighting near Mosul. It expects another 200,000 will be uprooted in the coming weeks.Coalition fighters have continued to push back IS positions around Mosul, with reports saying troops have advanced within 5km (3miles) from the city.On Thursday Kurdish fighters re-captured the predominantly Christian town of Bartella, which Iraqi counter-terrorism officials say is a key to the larger offensive.